The Missing Piece to the Puzzle: Profiling Taiwanese Distant Water Vessel Owners to Steer the System towards a More Ethical Fishing Industry

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November 22, 2023
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Funded and supported by Humanity United and the Freedom Fund, HRC is embarking on a new project to profile the vessel owners of Taiwanese distant water fishing vessels. The fishing industry, especially the distant water fishing industry, has consistently been recognised as a high-risk sector, exposing workers to the vulnerabilities of forced labour and human trafficking. Fishing vessel owners have faced severe criticism from the international community, governments, and local CSOs for their mistreatment of fishers.

Concurrently, vessel owners have voiced grievances about the escalated costs and risks associated with operating fishing vessels. Consequently, vessel owner associations have reported a significant number of owners opting to exit the industry, as they struggle to find financially viable means to sustain their businesses. In dire cases, some vessel owners have tragically resorted to suicide, burdened by insurmountable debts incurred to enter the fishing business.

The lack of understanding regarding vessel owners’ profiles appears to be a significant obstacle hindering the efforts of human rights groups to create a more ethical fishing industry. Furthermore, the limited understanding of who vessel owners truly are may lead to assumptions that they are the sole perpetrators, potentially overlooking the vulnerability and challenges faced by small-scale vessel owners in the broader global supply chain. As a consequence, this failure to address fundamental issues, such as the equitable distribution of values in the global supply chain, hampers the realisation of comprehensive solutions.

Key question:

If Taiwanese vessel owners and management officers (captains, chief engineers), in contrast to organised criminal syndicates, perceive themselves as law-abiding citizens, then what hinders them from fostering an improved working environment for migrant fishermen?

The objective of this study is to gain insights into the incentives, characteristics, and challenges within the Taiwanese distant water fishing industry, paving the way for potential improvements and reforms.

To achieve this, the research will delve into three guiding questions:

  1. The “Who” question: The study will investigate the identities of Taiwanese distant water vessel owners and seek to establish a comprehensive typology/segmentation of these owners based on various factors such as company size, clustering, historical records, operational styles, and more.
  2. The “Why” question: The research will examine the underlying motivations driving vessel owners to adopt specific working and living conditions on their vessels. Additionally, it will explore the factors that contribute to breaches of ILO labour standards by vessel owners, shedding light on the root causes behind such non-compliance.
  3. The “What” question: The study will analyse the key challenges and opportunities faced by owners of Taiwanese-flagged distant water fishing vessels arising from their interactions with other private sector stakeholders. This will entail an exploration of various aspects, including recruitment practices, purchasing approaches, pricing strategies, and trading dynamics.

To achieve the expected outcomes of the research, the team will be carrying out a blend of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Desk review and quantitative analysis will be conducted based on the open database on the background information of Taiwanese-flagged distant water fishing vessels, as well as a survey designed for vessel owners in Taiwan.

Our team will conduct fieldwork in Taiwan. To obtain in-depth insights into the power dynamics and the experiences of the vessel owners and to reveal issues that have not yet been covered in existing literature and data, the team will invite Taiwanese vessel owners to participate in focus group discussions (FGDs) and interviews, especially those who voluntarily provide accessible Wi-Fi connections for fishers’ use, who actively comply with the C188, as well as those whose vessels have unfortunately been involved in severe labour exploitation. The interview data will be validated by triangulating with open-source company data and fishermen’s testimonies.

The cumulative outcomes of the study will serve as a foundation for informed decision-making in the quest for a more ethical fishing industry in Taiwan and beyond.